Designing preschools for an independent and social child: visions of preschool space in the Swedish welfare state

Johannes Westberg*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
17 Downloads (Pure)


The physical environment in early childhood education and care is crucial. This paper examines the Swedish government’s vision of preschool design in the welfare state of the 1970s and the conceptions of children and society upon which it was based. Presenting an investigation of reports, booklets, and study materials published by various branches of the central government, this paper analyses an ambitious preschool design intended to provide children with a diverse and stimulating environment that supported their independence and freedom of choice. Unlike similar designs in postwar Europe, this preschool design was not formulated in response to the experiences of the world wars. Inspired by the theories of Piaget and Erikson and based on the rationality of the Swedish welfare state, this preschool design was instead intended to remedy the shortcomings of a perceived anonymous, sterile and barren modern society. In relation to existing research, this paper contributes to the study of the so-called nursery heritage by examining how it was formulated in the setting of the Swedish welfare state. In so doing, the paper also provides ample ground for a continued critical discussion on contemporary strands of neoliberal preschool design.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)458-475
Number of pages18
JournalEarly Years
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • early childhood
  • history of education
  • material culture
  • Preschool
  • space; piaget

Cite this